Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Indian Airborne Early Warning Aircraft Nears Trials

NEW DELHI: India’s domestically developed airborne early warning and control system is taking a big step forward with the first of three modified Brazilian EMB-145s headed for flight trials.

The preliminary testing, due to kick off in the next two months, will be carried out in Brazil by Embraer and a team from the Indian air force’s Aircraft & Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) in association with Brazil’s Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil and its Indian counterpart, the Center for Military Airthworthiness and Certification (Cemilac).

Defense Research and Development Organization sources reveal that the first platform will be equipped with a dorsal radar unit containing dummy electronics, an in-flight refueling probe, environmental controls, auxiliary power units, internal fuel tanks, satellite communications and antennae.

India’s Bangalore-based Center for Airborne Systems (CABS) — the laboratory spearheading the AEW&C sensor program — already has supplied Embraer with a dorsal unit (with dummy electronics) and a Ku-band SATCOM dome, while the Defense Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), CABS and the Defense Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL) have shipped in antenna units for electronic support measures, communications support measures (CSM) and U/VHF. The aircraft will undergo flight tests until July 2011.

While the EMB-145 in the AEW&C configuration undergoes flight tests in Brazil, the configuration to be ferried to India in August 2011 will include only the aircraft with the dorsal pylon but not the antenna unit or other features, such as the extra auxiliary power unit or internal fuel tanks. Once the first aircraft reaches India, it will undergo a flight testing regime with CABS, ASTE and Cemilac in association with an embedded Embraer team.

After a series of checkout flights in India, the aircraft will be integrated with a dorsal unit containing real electronics and other mission system equipment, including five operator workstations, avionics racks, crew rest seating, seats and cabling. Program sources indicate that the aircraft will be tested in three different locations in the country, Yelahanka in the South, Bareilly in the North and either Bagdogra or Tezpur in the East.

On June 23, EADS Cassidian (the former Defense & Security unit) announced that it has been awarded a contract to supply consultancy services to CABS for developing the AEW&C’s system architecture with particular regard to certification and mission equipment optimization, giving the European company its third big aerospace consultancy in India, following advisory contracts in the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft program.

The first Indian AEW&C aircraft is slated to achieve full operational capability in 2014, with inductions of three aircraft the same year. While numbers remain unofficial, the Indian air force has hinted at a need for at least eight of the indigenous AEW&C aircraft.

The air force also recently decided to exercise options with Israel for two more Phalcon AWACS, though the platform is likely to be a business jet rather than the Ilyushin-76, a platform that remains plagued by maintainability, availability and spares problems at its home base in Agra. The air force will achieve final operational capability on the Phalcon in November of this year, with the third aircraft to arrive shortly thereafter.

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